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The month of May, rich with burgeoning life after winter’s severity, brings motherhood to mind . The observance of an official holiday further nudges our awareness! So, a question comes to mind: What does it mean to mother?
Like the iconic, multi-tasking mother herself, the word holds several jobs: noun, adjective, and verb. Each category has nuanced sub-definitions. Mothering is complex—both passive and active—we can be a mother to someone and we can be mothered by someone. We can have a mother and lose a mother to death or life circumstance.
In adoption, the word Mother holds additional unique subtexts: Expectant, Hopeful, Real, Birth, First, Adoptive, Foster… Mothers—and fathers—are described as Permanent, Temporary, Terminated, or Forever…
As so often happens, language is freighted with emotional weight. Like a fence, words mark who or what is in or out. Too often, we use language as a leveraging tool in an adversarial, either/or power play. Language influences who or what has value and/or power.
One of the most enduring realities in adoption is that family life is complicated, messy, crowded, and necessitates a Both/And approach. Our children depend on us to be inclusive. We can love with courage and verve. The choice is ours. We can resist our fears and insecurities and not allow them to limit and distress us. We can embrace the Both/And approach and harvest the advantages of inclusion. Not only will our children benefit; we will as well.
We parents love all of our children whether we adopted them or gave birth to them. If someone insisted that we choose one child and forsake another, we would adamantly refuse. We would insist that the request was impossible! Unreasonable! Cruel!
Yet, too often, this expectation of exclusivity and undivided loyalty is imposed on adopted children, not only by society but also by their adoptive parents. Adoptees are told—overtly or subtly—that they must choose their adoptive parents over their birth parents. Whether out of insecurity or fear, some adoptive parents cannot, or choose not to make room in the family circle to include all of their child’s relationships. Instead, they insist: Choose us or them.
From this limited, polarized vantage point, only one set of parents are held as real. Adopted children whose families believe this either/or point of view, suffer tremendous emotional upheaval. Mother Love becomes a knife that cleaves them instead of a sanctuary that enfolds and nurtures them.
As adoptive parents, we can refuse to ask our children to split themselves in two. Instead, we can offer them a great grace and not insist that our children be exclusively loyal and emotionally connected only to us. We can offer our children an inclusive, unconditional love that genuinely appreciates their need for all of their significant relationships. We want to forge ways to sustain emotional, intellectual, psychic, and—as long as it is safe—physical openness with birth parents. (When physical connection is not possible or is unsafe, we can still nurture the other aspects of openness.)
Before we know it, our children will be autonomous adults no longer under our control. They will decide for themselves with whom to engage or not. Will they experience us as having been their champions, mentors, and best advocates as well as their beloved parents? Their decision will be partially based on how well they feel we met their needs and that they felt safe, seen, validated, and supported, and loved in ways that touched their hearts’ core.
When we are able to create that connection, they will have experienced belonging in a way that they felt in their hearts, minds, and spirits.
Sometimes our emotions run so deep that the only way we can begin to express them is through poetry. This poem is dedicated to all those who mother…
On Mothering, Part II
For all who mother,
We wish you blessings and joy, memories and connection.
For mothers who mourn,
We wish you comfort and peace.
For mothers who grieve,
We wish you solace.
For those who yearn to mother,
We wish you hope and fulfillment.
For mothers who wonder,
We wish you answers and reassurance.
For mothers who suffer,
We wish you healing and understanding.
For all who seek to Mother,
We wish your dream fulfilled.
For those who love with a mother’s soul,
We wish you love returned in full measure.